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Argyle Cheese Farmer: Crafting Cow Culture

Photo by Han Hopman.

Dave Randles has seen six active dairy farms disappear from the five-mile stretch of Argyle where his family’s farm has existed since 1862. Today, the animals are gone from their farm too, and the land that remains is used only for growing crops. 

In 2020, Dave and his wife, Marge, owners of the Argyle Cheese Farmer, moved onto greener pastures in Hudson Falls – trading steep grassy slopes with great views for the sleek sophistication of a state-of-the-art dairy processing plant. Equipped with an observation window, visitors can see first-hand the future of this industry. 

“The reality of farming is truer here than in the press,” said Marge. 

Get Big or Get Out

New York’s dairy industry is critical to the state’s economy. New York is an agribusiness global leader with an innovative dairy community that produces more than 15 billion pounds of milk annually, making it the fifth largest dairy producer in the nation.

But producing more milk has not meant more profits for most of the state’s farmers – or cheaper prices for consumers. 

“People want cheap food but if farmers were paid what they needed to have to make a living wage, shoppers couldn’t afford it,” said Marge.

“People need to eat,” explained Dave, “but economically, dairy farming doesn’t pay. You work, and work, and work – hard – and don’t get anywhere.”

The price of machinery and production costs have risen while volatile milk prices wedge dairy farmers into a position where they must expand their herd or consolidate. These larger dairies have improved margins because they can buy supplies in bulk, are less vulnerable to market fluctuations, and have more money to invest in more efficient equipment, better quality feed and forage, and the “Cadillac” of cow bedding materials – sand. 

What Dreams are Made Of

Dave and Marge met at Cornell University in the 1970’s and Marge, a Certified Financial Planner, ran a successful accounting business for 20 years before the couple released a line of Argyle Cheese Farmer products in 2007.  

In 2020, Argyle Cheese Farmer teamed up with Hudson Fall’s Ideal Dairy Farm to purchase the Lewis Super Grocery store on Burgoyne Avenue. 

“We wouldn’t be here today without Ideal Farm,” said Marge. Not only does Ideal Farm’s size and scale make them efficient, they have invested in genetics to create “cookie-cutter cows” and provided creature comforts (like fans and automated back-scratchers) for them.

After renovating the building to give it a red and white exterior, reminiscent of the barns that used to commonly dot the landscape, when visitors walk inside this cheese shop they are greeted by the enticing aroma of bread baking in the commercial kitchen. 

Argyle Cheese Farmer’s delightful baked goods are just one of the many ways they’ve incorporated Ideal’s milk into their product line. In addition to the amazing dry, crumbly cheese curds that have made them famous, the Argyle Cheese Farmer shop carries items you won’t commonly see at their 65 retail locations (which include Hannaford, Price Chopper/Market 32 Supermarkets, Stewart’s Shops and area farmer’s markets, among others). 

Argyle Cheese Farmer offers a selection of milk products including 11 flavors of hard cheese; creamy cheesecakes in a variety of sizes; quark (a simple, European-style cream cheese), and take-and-bake meals like pizza and macaroni and cheese. Ice cream, gelato, sorbet, and frozen yogurt, are joined by their robust line of Greek yogurts, including the New York State Fair’s Best in State award-winner made with syrup from Argyle’s Highland Maple Farm. 

Carrying European and other local artisanal cheeses, milk products, and goods, as well as souvenir items, this shop satisfies visitors with fancy cheese needs and those looking to pick up affordable, locally-made grocery staples.

Anything Argyle is A2

Although Ideal Dairy Farm, established in 1908, now raises 3,000 cows and cultivates 4,500 acres of farmland in Warren and Washington counties, Argyle Cheese Farmer products are made only from their herd of 250 cows producing A2 milk. 

Making a splash in recent years because it is considered more digestible for people experiencing symptoms of lactose intolerance, A2 milk has been a saving grace for many consumers who had previously sworn-off dairy. 

Creating the recipes for their products comes naturally to Marge, she said, but adjusting to their current scale of production has had its challenges.Instead of making yogurt three times a week in 50-gallon vats, they now use a 1,200-gallon vat for yogurt and a 500-gallon vat for cheese production. 

Through their observation window, visitors are educated about the process and see the safety measures in place while learning the history of the unique and talented dairy producers and processors that provide significant contributions to New York’s agriculture industry, the economy, and to the health of our communities.

The Argyle Cheese Farmer, 2358 Burgoyne Ave, Hudson Falls, is open Monday – Saturday 8am-7pm, and Sunday 9am-4pm. They will be participating with Ideal Dairy in tours throughout July & August, and are a designated stop on the 2024 County Bounty Tour on September 7th & 8th.

For more information, visit their website at cheesefarmer.com